The Effects of Trauma on Students in School Caroline Miller from the Child Mind Institute recently wrote an article about the impact of trauma and how it impacts students in school. In her article she discusses how ongoing exposure to neglect, abuse, homelessness and violence causes learning and behavior problems in children. She also identifies signs of trauma and tips for helping kids who have been traumatized. Trauma is often seen as the result of a frightening and upseƫting event, however, many children experience trauma through ongoing exposure, throughout early development, to abuse, neglect, homelessness, domestic violence or violence in their communities. Chronic trauma can cause serious problems with learning and behavior. For educators, trauma is challenging to address because kids often do not express what they are feeling in a way that can easily be observed. The internal pain they are feeling is often masked by defiant behaviors and aggression. Identifying the signs of trauma can help educators understand the confusing behaviors they witness, it can help avoid misdiagnosis as symptoms can mimic other problems such as ADHD. Students who have been impacted by trauma often have difficulty forming relationships with teachers, have poor self‐regulation skills, are negative thinkers, are hyper‐vigilant, and struggle with executive functioning skills. Children who have been neglected or abused have difficulty forming relationships with teachers because their experiences have caused them to not trust adults. Since they have been ignored or betrayed most of their lives by their caregivers they have learned to be wary of all adults, including teachers. One of the challenges in giving support to students who need it is that when they misbehave we often withdraw attention and support and rely on negative discipline practices, instead of addressing the problems. Helping children address the problem can simply start by acknowledging and naming the emotions so they can hopefully express what they are feeling. Traumatized children often have trouble managing their emotions because of the emotional neglect they have went through from not being calmed and soothed by caring adults during infancy. This lack of calmness and soothing created attachment disorders and chronic dysregulations. As adults we need to support and coach these children in ways to calm themselves and manage their emotions. We need to help them get the control they need to “change the channel” when they are upset and help them through the de‐escalating process. Another challenge facing students who are traumatized is that they often develop the belief that they are bad and that everything is their fault and that nothing will ever change. This causes them to have the perception that, “Why try hard when I always fail?” “Why behave if I am going to get into trouble anyways?” Children from abusive homes sometimes are unable to participate in class activities because they have a huge fear about making a mistake. These students need to be shown their successes, no matter how small or big, but to be constantly aware of their value. In addition, they also need to learn that making mistakes is part of learning and that it will be OK. Another symptom of trauma is that it creates a hyper‐vigilant mentality. These kids are often jumpy and have an exaggerated startle response. Often times these students behaviors can change very quick and sometimes for no apparent reason. For students who are traumatized it not only is important to build strong connections with them and help them build missing skills, but also, give them as much positive attention as possible. Positive attention includes not only praising them for desired behavior but also expressing warmth and kindness on a daily basis to show them that that is what adults do. If you have concerns about your child and feel they have experienced trauma that is impacting their education please contact the school for support.
William J. Clark, Superintendent/Director of Special Services